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McCain on the tracks

By enelson
Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 12:58 pm in Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, light rail, rail, Transit vs. driving.

Being a political junkie, I watched the Democratic primaries for any sign that transportation might become an issue. It never did and thus my career as a political blogger never got off the ground.

But today I see that the confluence of the general election, $4.50-a-gallon gasoline and John McCain’s legislative record have given me another chance to give the Daily Kos a run for its money (OK, so I’ll start with Political Blotter and work my way up).

An op-ed piece by Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson calls attention to the fact that America’s suburban commuters are giving a significant boost to commuter rail, and that should make McCain very worried:

For years, McCain, in the comfort of cheap gasoline for autos and airplanes, made Amtrak a personal whipping boy. Despite the fact that governments in Western Europe and Asia zoomed far ahead of the United States by supporting high-speed trains to relieve congestion, promote tourism and now as we are coming to know, save the planet, McCain has spent considerable capital in denying the passenger rail system the capital to modernize.

Obama, for his part, has not made a big campaign issue out of rail travel, but at least he hasn’t tried to squash our only national passenger rail service.

Jackson writes that McCain’s efforts to cut Amtrak off at the knees even angered his fellow Republicans (McCain’s trademark), such as Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.

While taking Amtrak out to the woodshed is popular with many other Republicans, including George W. Bush, high gas prices may have altered the opinions of many Americans struggling to cope with the new reality of transportation in 2008:

Suddenly, the traveling public is demanding the development of commuter and high-speed intercity rail. According to the American Public Transportation Association, light rail (streetcars) was up 10 percent in the first quarter of this year, commuter rail was up by 6 percent, and subways were up 4 percent (Boston subway travel was up by 9 percent).

The House and Senate have passed bills calling for new investments in passenger rail, creating the same federal incentives for states to invest in rail service, offering 80 cents for every 20 cents spent by the states. Barack Obama is a cosponsor of the Senate bill. Noting on his website that he is committed to the development of high speed rail, Obama said, “In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation.”

Call me partisan, but I get warm fuzzies when I see those hulking red-white-and-blue trains rolling down the tracks. That is the most reliable, viable and logical way I have to get to work at a time when commuting is costing me more than $460 a month in gas alone.

And around here, commuter train ridership was up 16 percent year-over-year the last time I checked.

So Jackson concludes that McCain has given Obama “a golden spike to beat him over the head with,” because McCain doesn’t just ignore rail, he seems to dream of spitting on its grave:

In the section of McCain’s website called “reforming our transportation sector,” there is no mention of rail. There is only his clean-car challenge to automakers, his $300 million prize to design battery cars, and enforcing only existing gas mileage standards. When The Washington Post reported on how President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget did not include a subsidy for Amtrak, would kill both $20 million for the next generation of high-speed rail, and $250 million for railroad rehabilitation, it quoted McCain as saying on television, “I’m glad the president is coming over with a very austere budget.”

So the train’s a’comin’ and McCain may have been so busy sabotaging the tracks that it’s too late to get out of the way.

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5 Responses to “McCain on the tracks”

  1. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    The Obama campaign has been talking about rail and even high speed rail for several months now – but the media hasn’t paid attention (preferring to focus on the latest “omg he said what?” pseudo-scandal). I am certain that as the general election campaign continues we will be hearing a lot about how much McCain hates passenger rail. A “golden spike” indeed.

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    omg, he said WHAT about high-speed rail? why didn’t I see this on Fox News?

  3. Reedman Says:

    I am not hopeful about train travel in the USA. 1) There still is not train service between New Orleans and Jacksonville, even though Katrina is many years in the past. 2) The Caltrans engineers union has successfully made it a legal requirement that they design the proposed high speed rail. They can now set their salaries at any level and the money will have to flow their way …

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Reedman, your pessimism is well-founded, as this nation turned its back on trains as soon as fins were invented. As for the Caltrans engineers, I’m hearing that this won’t hold up in court. If that’s true, I think that either it will be stripped out of the legislation (unlikely) or the courts will fix it. But then I tend to look at the bright side, as Robert would no doubt agree ;^)

  5. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    The Caltrans engineer thing is likely to be stripped out, from what I understand. As to train travel, you have to ignore reality to argue it is not something to be hopeful about. Americans only turned away from it because oil was so incredibly cheap, and its transportation forms so heavily subsidized, that trains had no hope of competing. The end of cheap oil means Americans already are returning to the trains, as the soaring ridership of virtually every passenger rail system proves.

    In this case, if you want to look on the bright side of life, you’ve just got to look at what is happening all around us…

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